June 17, 2022
Last Updated:
June 21, 2022

Honoring Juneteenth by Nourishing Our Bodies, Minds, and Souls

“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible ‒ and there is still so much work to do.”

‒ Barack Obama

Juneteenth honors a special day in Black history. Also referred to as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for more than a century now. On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed. The formerly enslaved people celebrated, and since then, it’s become an annual tradition. But Juneteenth (short for “June nineteenth”) hasn’t always been a federal holiday; Texas recognized it in 1980, and other states followed suit. In fact, Juneteenth only became a national holiday in 2021.

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated with cookouts, picnics, parades, and festivals. The foods are primarily red to signify resilience, strength, and bloodshed. In addition, the red drinks are a tribute to the drinks served during special occasions throughout the diaspora.

Celebrating Juneteenth with Red Foods

Barbecuing is a way of bringing communities together. Juneteenth menus include pork, ribs, brisket, and chicken. The sauce for the barbecue items is also considered red food. Additionally, the prosperity-meal sides are a must. They consist of cornbread, collard greens, and black-eyed peas. Cornbread represents gold, collard greens bring good fortune, and black-eyed peas represent wealth. It all boils down to celebrating good luck and best wishes.

Preparing meals for Juneteenth can still be healthy and fun while maintaining the cultural aspects of the day. I’ve previously gone to a Juneteenth celebration with a small group of family and friends, with each person overseeing one part of the meal. My contribution was a red cabbage slaw with parsley, green onions, carrots, and jalapeño plus a spicy dressing of apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, olive oil, maple syrup, garlic, and spices. It was a hit – as well as delicious and healthy, with lots of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and calcium. It was a priority for me to make a recipe that held on to the tradition but also provided health benefits.

7 Red Foods to Honor Juneteenth

While celebrating Juneteenth this year, here are some ways to add red to the plate. Red fruits and vegetables have antioxidants that slow the damage to cells from free radicals. Antioxidant foods have been shown to decrease the risk of hypertension, cholesterol, and heart disease and to increase brain function. Check out these recipes for your Juneteenth cookout.

Red beans

Red beans, rich in folate, iron, potassium, and protein, can be combined with rice to make a dish of smoky red beans. Red beans are a good source of dietary fiber.

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Beets are packed with vitamin C, folate, and magnesium, and they make a refreshing beet and goat cheese salad with beet vinaigrette. Folate helps to reduce damage to blood vessels, which supports heart health and reduces the risk of stroke.


Watermelon, which is rich in vitamin B, C, and lycopene (the source of its red color), can be grilled or served in a beautiful limeade. Even a watermelon salad with strawberries and feta will make a great addition to your Juneteenth table. Watermelon is 90% water and can help you stay hydrated during the summer months.

Red cabbage

Red cabbage is rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and K, calcium, iron, and magnesium. These nutrients help build strong, healthy bones. Red cabbage slaw, with red onions and apple cider vinegar, is a wonderful addition to any table.


Strawberries, full of vitamin C and antioxidants, can be added to fresh juices or made into delicious berry pies. Strawberries support heart health, increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.


Raspberries, which are rich in vitamins C and K and magnesium, make delicious fresh juices or pies. The raspberry seeds contain omega-3s, which can support heart health.


Hibiscus is a flowering plant rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C. The flower is delicious as a flavoring for punch, coolers, or even ice cream! Hibiscus can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as help fight inflammation.

Honoring Juneteenth by Nourishing Ourselves

Traditions like Juneteenth can still maintain their history while tweaking recipes for holistic lifestyle enhancements. Whatever you plan to do this Juneteenth, never lose sight of the history and traditions of the holiday.

Author Biography
Vanessa Clermont, MS, RD, CDN
IIN Content Writer

Vanessa Clermont, MS, RD, CDN, is a functional medicine dietitian at 5thandlyfe, based in New York City. She runs a private consulting practice and works with individuals on diabetes management, obesity prevention, and cancer nutrition.

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